myths

How to Suppress the Vote

IN THIS YEAR'S midterm elections, hundreds of thousands of Americans will have a much more difficult time casting their ballots than they did two years ago. And it won’t be because of rain, or early winter snows, or other acts of God.

It will be because powerful people don’t want them to vote.

Why? They stand to gain politically if the “wrong” people can be kept away from the polls. It’s the opposite of a “get out the vote” campaign—“keep out the vote” describes it better.

The tradition of keeping particular sectors of the population from taking part in the franchise goes back to the founding fathers. John Adams, for instance, believed that only rich, successful, smart people should vote—and only people of a certain race and gender, of course.

“Such is the frailty of the human heart,” Adams wrote in May 1776, “that very few men who have no property have any judgment of their own.” At the time, politicians in Massachusetts wanted to allow men who didn’t own property to vote. Adams thought that was a bad idea. For him, no property meant no vote.

Adams felt that young people, the poor and illiterate, and many other ordinary citizens lacked the basic judgment needed to cast wise ballots. Most of them, he felt, knew just enough about public policy to be dangerous. If the ballot box was opened to “every man who has not a farthing,” he wrote, then all sorts of other unworthy souls would soon demand the right to vote as well.

Most of the other founding fathers agreed. In 1790, 10 out of the 13 original colonies allowed only property owners to vote. But by 1850, only three of the then-31 states had such property-owner restrictions. Since then, the other efforts to limit access to voting—from a $2 poll tax in Mississippi to literacy tests—were fought and eventually eliminated.

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The Bible is Not A Myth: God’s Patience with a Tone Deaf People

Bible, Sabphoto/ Shutterstock.com
Bible, Sabphoto/ Shutterstock.com

I don’t know where God gets the patience. We are absolutely the most difficult people to communicate with! As the Letter to the Hebrews begins, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets.” Many and various ways – thank you, God, for trying everything you could think of to get through to us. And then, as Hebrews continues, “in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” And not just any, run-of-the-mill offspring. No! This Son was “appointed heir of all things,” by God, “through whom he also created the worlds.” Sending such a magnificent messenger means nothing less than a passionate desire to be heard: I AM SENDING YOU MY SON, THE ONE THROUGH WHOM I DO MY GREATEST WORK TO SHOW YOU WHO I AM! IS ANYONE LISTENING??

That was two thousand years ago and still God has not abandoned hope. At least I think God hasn’t! Which is so like God. But what is so not like us is that finally, tentatively, it appears that we are beginning to get the message. At least a part of the message that has not gotten through to us before. A Spirit of renewal has been moving through Christianity. New meanings are being discovered in Scripture, meanings that are so strange and unnatural to us that they could only have come from God. Or should I say, that they could only have been coming from God for a long, long time until we finally developed ears to hear.

Shifting the Frame

“CINEMA IS a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.” With this, Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest living U.S. directors, gives us a simple window to understand the power of cinema. What is in the frame is a choice by the filmmaker, and what is not highlighted is also a choice.

People of color, literally and metaphorically, have struggled to be included in the frame and fought to move from the background to the foreground of the cinematic imagination.

The U.S. cinema, historically, has been the vanguard of stereotypes and the enforcer of our racialized imagination. Our view of women, people of color, and ethnicities define and are expanded by the power of cinema.

D.W. Griffith’s 1915 silent film The Birth of a Nation was a revisionist history of the Civil War and Reconstruction that defined the Ku Klux Klan as the hero of the story and used white actors in blackface to frame black people as a threat to white society. This film, while not seen by the majority of filmgoers, set into motion the racial constructs we now view as normative. Black men, for example, have often been viewed in cinematic history as ethically dubious, highly sexualized, violent, or childlike comic characters.

These stereotypes created by the filmmaker’s imagination became, in the minds of many in the U.S., a historical fact. Cinema helped reinforce myths and arbitrary prejudices not based on cultural differences but created to protect economic interests of white Southerners who feared black labor.

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Bordering on the Truth

DURING CONGRESS’ current debate about immigration reform, the realities faced by immigrants and border communities are all too often misunderstood and misrepresented. What are the facts about border issues?

Myth #1: Border walls are effective for keeping out unauthorized border crossers.
Reality: History teaches us that walls don’t work when economic opportunity is on the other side—but walls that are higher and longer do cause more injuries and death when people are forced to go over, under, and around.

The most recent era of migration across the southern U.S. border was caused primarily by economic factors, as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) caused millions of Mexican farmers to lose their livelihoods. The current border strategy, enacted hand in hand with NAFTA, envisioned deterring economic refugees by intentionally funneling migration to dangerous desert areas. The danger and death happened; the deterrence didn’t. It was the U.S. economic downturn, much more than the wall, that has caused the current net-zero immigration rate.

Myth #2: The border is safer today because the Border Patrol has doubled in number in less than a decade.
Reality: Since 2005, 144 Customs and Border Protection employees have been arrested or indicted on corruption charges, including smuggling people or drugs. A federally funded analysis correlates the problem with the surge in agents and a weak internal disciplinary system. Excessive use of force by Border Patrol agents is of increasing concern. Last October, an agent at the border wall fired into the streets of Nogales, Mexico, killing 16-year-old Jose Elena Rodriguez, the second Mexican teenager killed by Border Patrol fire into the city in less than two years. The autopsy reported that Elena Rodriguez was shot at least seven times from behind.

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Om Shaka Laka Laka: Three Myths and Two Truths About Yoga

"Yoga." Image by Earl McGehee via Wylio http://bit.ly/xzjw0R.
"Yoga." Image by Earl McGehee via Wylio http://bit.ly/xzjw0R.

As a yoga practitioner — no, make that "zealous convert and obsessed fanatic" — I listened with great interest to Terry Gross's Fresh Air interview this week with William Broad, whose book The Science of Yoga has just been released.

In the interview and in the book, Broad (a science writer for the New York Times and a yoga practitioner for more than 40 years) takes on some of the claims about yoga and separates the wheat from the chaff, arguing that only some of these claims are borne out by science. Here are three myths debunked, and two major claims — that yoga can do wonders for your sex life and your mood — officially verified.

 

Keystone XL Pipeline: Debunking Some Myths

Keystone XL pipes in 2009. Image via Wiki Commons http://bit.ly/wetrWI
Pipes for the Keystone XL Pipeline in 2009. Image via Wiki Commons http://bit.ly/wetrWI

The building of a 1,700-mile pipeline through the heartland of the United States has been at the center of the debate on the economy for many months now. Much has been written by those who both support and oppose its construction. And much has also been written about just how important the pipeline would be to the U.S. economy if it were actually to be built.

With the deadline for the Obama administration’s decision on construction coming up fast (2/21), many have already made up their minds. But have they done so on the basis of accurate figures?

It might be pretty difficult to do so, given that various estimates put the number of jobs created though the construction of the pipeline at anywhere between 20 and 350,000. So where have all these different estimates come from, and which one (if any) is actually accurate?

The first difficulty that arises from trying to find an accurate estimate is that most of the numbers from the upper echelons of the estimates come from the company who are hoping to build the pipeline: TransCanada.

On Becoming a Servant Leader

 rangizzz / Shutterstock
 rangizzz / Shutterstock

Servant leadership is a paradoxical concept that is as old as Lao Tzu and Jesus and as new as Dorothy Day and Desmond Tutu. In a world desperately in need of new leaders and fresh models of leadership, now is a good time to examine the myths and paradoxes of what Christians mean by "servant leadership."

The key to unleashing transformative social change is developing leaders who will transform systems. Leaders transform themselves, people around them, organizations they lead, and, ultimately, communities they serve. Servant leaders foster servant churches, which become change agents for their neighborhoods and beyond.

Servant leadership may seem paradoxical to some, but that is precisely what we would expect from a leadership style modeled by Jesus. When management educator Robert Greenleaf coined the phrase in the 1970s, he intentionally selected a paradoxical term because it epitomized the paradoxical nature of the teachings and example of Jesus, who used parables to teach wisdom and who demonstrated the ultimate irony with his life and resurrection. Unfortunately, some self-proclaimed proponents of servant leadership now are equating it with everything from visionary leadership to effective time management.

Servant leaders are motivated first to serve and then to lead. The servant leader wants to serve rather than be served (Mark 10:45). The servant leader is more interested in giving than receiving (Matthew 5:40-42). The servant leader is a steward who wants to give back to God, family, and community.

Non-servant leaders, on the other hand, or "pedestal leaders," tend to command people and control what they do. These leaders have little interest in listening to the needs, interests, or ideas of others. They might call themselves "public servants," but they act as if they are interested in serving only themselves. They lack the humility to understand that leaders need people as much as people need leaders.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2011
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